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we saw wut u did thar, paramount
I'm like, 'Where are the Chinese?'  
6th-Aug-2011 04:39 pm
thelma - 2
So AMC is coming out with a new drama called Hell on Wheels. This particular snippet from a Washington Post article caught my eye...

Somebody’s missing

...AMC moved on to the business at hand: plugging its new period drama series, “Hell on Wheels,” about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the tent city that moved along the railroad as it was being built.

Right off the bat, the press wanted to know why there are no Chinese immigrant characters in the series, given that Chinese labor played a big role in the construction of the cross-country railroad.

More accurately, the question put to the show’s creators, Joe and Tony Gayton, was: “I’m like, ‘Where are the Chinese? . . . I mean, it was a major part of the thing!’ ”

“I predicted this is probably going to be the first question we were going to be asked,” creator Joe Gayton said proudly. “And probably rightfully so,” he added graciously, “because I think what a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants.”

But, he explained, “one of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught [us], and I think that’s probably the reason.”

This cleared things up not at all.

“And just, budget-wise and time-wise . . . we could really only concentrate on one side of [the railroad building], and that’s probably why we, you know, that’s why we chose the [emanating from the East Coast] Union Pacific as opposed to the [emanating from the West Coast] Central Pacific.”

Now clear as mud.

“The genesis of the railroad started in the East,” said Tony Gayton, taking a whack at the question, which, to refresh your memory as we travel further and further down the Gayton Family Rabbit Hole, was, “Why no Chinese characters?”

“It was Abraham Lincoln’s idea, and we’ve likened it to JFK, you know, saying, ‘We are going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade,’ ” Tony Gayton prattled on merrily.

“And it was very similar. So it just seemed a good starting point.”

But, he promised, “The Central Pacific will be a hint in the show. I mean, we will know that they are out there, building.”

“Having said that, we did write the Central Pacific into the pilot,” Joe Gayton jumped back in, sensing the explanation was not going over as well as might be hoped.

“And people asked us if we were insane, if we were trying to get both of the stories — service both of the stories — in a one-hour pilot. So they ended up getting excised.”

And there you have your answer, at long last: The Chinese characters? They got “excised.”

Source.

-------------------------------

Um, what? I'm particularly struck by how incoherent and inarticulate the show creators were in defending the lack of Chinese characters. Their excuses seem to boil down to: "We're not focusing on the Central Pacific area, which is where the Chinese laborers were primarily used." Which...you know... I'm starting to get tired of seeing that sort of rationalization. You hear it all the time. No diversity in Friends? Well, it's just that that particular crowd of friends was more insular and monochromatic! No Chinese people in Firefly? That makes sense because Chinese people were probably in the center of power and the Serenity crew was more on the fringes! Etc. Considering that the showrunners and producers themselves are the ones choosing the setting, it doesn't exactly absolve them of any responsibility. Or are we supposed to believe that this happens in a vacuum?

Hell, I'm pretty sure the US version of Skins moved their location from Baltimore to some "unnamed Eastern seaboard city" so that they wouldn't have to defend the startling lack of black people.
Comments 
6th-Aug-2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
How is a story about Chinese people building a railroad in a foreign land not the more interesting story? How is their story not American? And I know a bunch of minorities also worked on the railroads but you know they won't show up in the show either.
6th-Aug-2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
Whitewashing history, wish I was surprised. *sigh*
6th-Aug-2011 10:21 pm (UTC)
*sighs* This is just ridiculous.
6th-Aug-2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
Of course! Because we haven't heard the story of a bunch of White American People yet! THIS EPIC NEEDS TO BE TOLD, U GUIZ!!!111

/facepalm

Lazy excuse is lazy.
6th-Aug-2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
The fuck?
7th-Aug-2011 12:27 am (UTC)
Photobucket

I mean, you cannot tell a story about the Transcontinental Railroad without the Chinese immigrants who helped build the damn thing in the first place. And as said before, how is a story about a Chinese people emigrating to a different country with a radically different culture not an interesting story to tell?

Oh, but this is what really took the cake for me:
But, he explained, “one of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught [us], and I think that’s probably the reason.”

And apparently these Chinese workers AREN'T American. Or something.
7th-Aug-2011 09:29 am (UTC)
But can't you see the story about Generic McDudebro - a more or less attractive White American man in his 30s with brown hair and perma stubble - is so unique that it deserves all the attention!!11

<_<
7th-Aug-2011 10:34 am (UTC)
And let's not forget his awkward/"sexy" romance with the foreman's daughter, Hotty O'Hot.
7th-Aug-2011 12:38 am (UTC)
This is pretty dumb, and the excuses are pretty dumb.
7th-Aug-2011 02:15 am (UTC)
...So all this is doing is making me want to read China Men more. :|
7th-Aug-2011 02:30 am (UTC)
god, that's so fucked up. by the time I rolled around to US history, the only thing about the transcontinental railroads I'd read were the American Girl books, and EVEN THOSE BOOKS mentioned that Chinese people had a HUGE part in building the railroads. the fuck?
7th-Aug-2011 08:17 am (UTC)

Something is truly telling about the state of knowing the history of our country when the most we can find of something as crucial as the Chinese involvement in railroads can be found in the American Girl books.

If the local sources seem beyond the state of pathetic (and they are), try searching for the excellent video of the British BBC documentary The American Future by British historian Simon Schama.

There is an excellent segment on the early Chinese Americans including their involvement with the railroads and the insitutional racism they encountered. Very educational and detailed. Highly recommend it.

7th-Aug-2011 02:48 am (UTC) - everyone has already pointed this out but
But, he explained, “one of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught [us], and I think that’s probably the reason.”

How is the contribution of Chinese immigrant laborers unAmerican?
7th-Aug-2011 03:27 am (UTC) - Re: everyone has already pointed this out but
It isn't like people coming here from another country looking for a better life was what America as we know it was founded upon... oh wait.
7th-Aug-2011 09:16 am (UTC) - Re: everyone has already pointed this out but
MTE
7th-Aug-2011 07:19 pm (UTC) - Re: everyone has already pointed this out but
That's the part that bothered me the most. Apparently you can only be a real American if you're white. ಠ_ಠ
7th-Aug-2011 09:46 am (UTC)

As I posted earlier, watch the BBC Documentary The American Future by Simon Schama instead particularly on the segment of the early Chinese migrant workers to America and race in general. That segment alone is far more informative than what you will ever get from a whole American TV series fiction.

What makes Schama's documentary interesting is how he brings up lots of historical facts and cases in his research that shows how the contributions of early Chinese migrants were not only ignored by American society but was almost erased from the history books (railroad companies for example not taking photos and refusing to take photos of Chinese workers upon completion of the railroads, as a way not to commend them for the completion in contrast to white workers) due to racism. It also cites cases of how there were Chinese workers systematically driven out of many towns in California supported by both the press and local government during the era.

There is also some nice commentary points made by Schama that I think truly hits the nail and drives home the point of how certain non-white migrants were treated in the past era compared to white ones. He mentions something along the lines of how America welcomed those from across the Atlantic but not across from the Pacific.

Joe and Tony Gayton's paltry vision and AMC's production is tragically a repeat of that history towards Chinese Americans and is nothing more than an ugly continuation of those institutions' mindset hundred years ago. By being "excised" from the script, it looks like the Chinese workers once more won't have their photos taken.
7th-Aug-2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
They're definitely hidden from history fiction. I only remember seeing them in Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman and This is America Charlie Brown.

I've looked up the Charlie Brown and rewatched it for the first time in 12 years (http://www.megavideo.com/?v=QMAHD8VX), while it does point out how awesome and strong the Chinese workers were, they all wear the exact same outfit, look exactly alike and have lines for eyes :P (I remember the lines for eyes creeping me out as a kid). They don't have any spoken lines, but since 90% of it is Charlie Brown narrating like a report I'll let that slide.
7th-Aug-2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
*and historical
11th-Aug-2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
There was also Jackie Chan Adventures' homage to Blazing Saddles:

"The sheriff's a...railroad worker."

(Having a Chinese protagonist helps.)
(Deleted comment)
8th-Aug-2011 08:54 am (UTC)
More like willful stupidity behind bad excuses. Excuses which make no effing sense!
8th-Aug-2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
Gotta admit, I found their excuses on the hilarious side. It's been a while since I've heard such an incoherent defense. FFS, I think even M. Night Shyamalan made more sense than they did.
8th-Aug-2011 07:52 pm (UTC)
Not me. I get headaches. I'm allergic to stupid. At the very least I have a very low tolerance level for it. That kind of stuff hurts too much.

When you make less sense than M. Night when confronted with such questions, you're screwed.
15th-Aug-2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
/“I predicted this is probably going to be the first question we were going to be asked,” creator Joe Gayton said proudly. “And probably rightfully so,” he added graciously, “because I think what a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants.”/

Okay, so if you *know* that Chinese immigrants played a major part in the construction of the railroad, then why did you -

/But, he explained, “one of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught [us], and I think that’s probably the reason.”/

...

*flatly* It's "just so American." Your story is "just so American" and if you included the Chinese, then it wouldn't be 'as American' anymore. Funny, I thought that a story about immigrants coming to this country for a better life and helping themselves and their new country through hard work was the quintessential American story. I guess it's only a heartwarming American tale of perseverance and fortitude when the immigrants are white.

/“And just, budget-wise and time-wise . . . we could really only concentrate on one side of [the railroad building], and that’s probably why we, you know, that’s why we chose the [emanating from the East Coast] Union Pacific as opposed to the [emanating from the West Coast] Central Pacific.”/

Uh-huh. And if you guys were making a show about Andrew Carnegie, something tells me that it wouldn't be too much of a strain "budget-wise" and "time-wise" to show a few scenes of his childhood in Scotland, even though there is obviously nothing "just so American" about Scotland.

/But, he promised, “The Central Pacific will be a hint in the show. I mean, we will know that they are out there, building.”/

They'll be "out there." We'll hear *about* them. But we won't hear *them.* We won't *see* them. These are the people who formed the backbone of the railroad and yet in this show, they'll be a "hint." A footnote. It's not even like they'll be seen and not heard. They won't be seen *or* heard. You're giving them less prominence than that of the anonymous black servant who walks around in the background without saying anything while the white characters have their Important Discussions.

You know, I wonder how these people would react if there was a movie made about the American Constitution and the only people that the audience saw were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Everybody else who was at the Constitutional Convention is just mentioned in passing conversation. We don't hear them, we don't see them, we just hear Jefferson and Madison talking about them. We're just supposed to *assume* that they had a part in the creation of the Constitution. And when the Constitution is finally completed, the only people that we see in the room are Jefferson and Madison, and the other delegates are...somewhere else.

Yeah, do you think that the Gaytons would accept that? Do you think that they would have said, "Oh, well, it was too much of a strain time-wise and budget-wise to get actors to play the rest of the delegates?"
8th-Sep-2011 12:07 am (UTC)
I could easily see the movie you describe being made.
8th-Sep-2011 12:10 am (UTC)
Time for the angry Ben icon.

Is there enough facepalm in the world?

I was never taught about the transcontinental railroad in school and learned of it just now by reading this. Is it any wonder that Tea Party supporters are so ignorant they think the country was built by white people alone if this is the state of American history education?

And the producers come off as priveleged nits.
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